The Story of WHER, America’s Pioneering, First All-Woman Radio Station (1955)


Sam Phillips changed the course of music his­to­ry with his label Sun Records, which gave us Elvis Pres­ley, Carl Perkins, John­ny Cash, and Roy Orbi­son and essen­tial­ly the sec­ond half of the 20th Century’s pop cul­ture. But he had a sec­ond act in a life where most peo­ple would have rest­ed on their lau­rels. Although not as well known, Phillips helped the course of female lib­er­a­tion when he found­ed the country’s first all-female radio sta­tion WHER in 1955, bought with the mon­ey he received from sell­ing Presley’s record­ing con­tract.

In this intrigu­ing and his­to­ry-packed two-part audio doc­u­men­tary from Fugi­tive Waves, we hear from Phillips and many of the disc jock­eys who worked at the Mem­phis sta­tion that broad­cast from the third-ever Hol­i­day Inn built in the coun­try.

Philips thought the hotel con­cept was pret­ty cool and want­ed to be asso­ci­at­ed with its mod­ern design. The stu­dio, called “the Doll Bin,” was tiny, pink and pur­ple and dec­o­rat­ed with bras and panties hang­ing from a clothes­line. “1000 Beau­ti­ful Watts” was the slo­gan, and though, yes, that’s a bit cloy­ing to mod­ern ears, in 1955 it was one of the first cracks in the wall of male media dom­i­nance.

For an exam­ple of the sex­ism of the time, the pod­cast plays an except from anoth­er Mem­phis radio sta­tion, of Kit­ty Kel­ly inter­view­ing musi­cian and com­pos­er Sig­mund Romberg, who uses the live inter­view as a chance to drool over his host.

Phillips cre­at­ed the sta­tion out of his love of radio and his curios­i­ty over hear­ing women’s voic­es on the air­waves. His wife Becky was one of the first DJs at WHER and she, along with many of the women who worked there, nar­rate the tale. Women ran the entire oper­a­tion from the voice to the engi­neer booth. Phillips was used to tak­ing in women with no expe­ri­ence, because he had done the same thing at Sun Records.

WHER last­ed through 1973, only two years after the Nation­al Press Club opened its mem­ber­ship to women. Iron­i­cal­ly, as women claimed more and more rights, men began to work at the sta­tion on and off air.

The full doc­u­men­tary is less than an hour and worth the lis­ten, as it proves that one of the vol­leys in the bat­tle for wom­en’s lib­er­a­tion came not from either of the coasts of Amer­i­ca, but right from the heart­land.

The Kitchen Sis­ters podcast–the cre­ator of the episode above–is fea­tured in our col­lec­tion, The 150 Best Pod­casts to Enrich Your Mind

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Simone de Beau­voir Explains “Why I’m a Fem­i­nist” in a Rare TV Inter­view (1975)

No Women Need Apply: A Dis­heart­en­ing 1938 Rejec­tion Let­ter from Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion

The Thrill is Gone: See B.B. King Play in Two Elec­tric Live Per­for­mances

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Great “Filmumentaries” Take You Inside the Making of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark & Jaws

Jamie Ben­ning, an Eng­lish­man who edits live tele­vi­sion broad­casts of auto races by day, spends all his nights pur­su­ing his appre­ci­a­tion for Hol­ly­wood block­busters of the 1970s and 80s — or at least I assume he does, giv­en how much effort and enthu­si­asm obvi­ous­ly goes into his sig­na­ture “fil­mu­men­taries,” long-form videos on the mak­ing of his favorite movies, packed with all the behind-the-scenes footage, sto­ry­boards, alter­nate takes, inter­views, and every oth­er bit and piece of media per­tain­ing to the pro­duc­tion on which he can lay his hands. Ear­li­er this year, we fea­tured his fil­mu­men­taries on the orig­i­nal Star Wars tril­o­gy; today, we give you his fil­mu­men­ta­riza­tion of the work of Steven Spiel­berg, specif­i­cal­ly Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Even casu­al film­go­ers will rec­og­nize these movies, and they’ll feel, short­ly after press­ing play on Ben­ning’s Inside Jaws and Raid­ing the Lost Ark, as if they’ve just set­tled in to watch them again, though they’ll see them as they nev­er have before. Seri­ous film fans will, as the form of the fil­mu­men­tary emerges, rec­og­nize the basis of the con­cept. Described as “visu­al com­men­taries,” these pro­duc­tions take the con­cept of the com­men­tary track and step it up con­sid­er­ably, over­lay­ing the orig­i­nal film’s sound­track with the words of a ver­i­ta­ble cho­rus of those who worked on it — actors (even some not ulti­mate­ly cast), crew mem­bers, design­ers, pro­duc­ers, hang­ers-around — sourced and some­times even record­ed by Ben­ning.

The line­up even includes Spiel­berg him­self, who famous­ly does­n’t record com­men­tary tracks, but whose inter­views giv­en over the decades Ben­ning cred­i­bly repur­pos­es into their form. As we hear all this while watch­ing these movies we know so well, we also see all man­ner of rel­e­vant footage relat­ed to their mak­ing, just the sort of avenue of cinephilic plea­sure I once imag­ined the DVD play­er’s “angle” but­ton would open up. The facts also keep flow­ing, in Raid­ing the Lost Ark, in the form of onscreen text, just like those old­er DVD releas­es that offered a sep­a­rate sub­ti­tle track with pop-up pro­duc­tion notes. Sam­ple: “Due to dif­fi­cult ter­rain, the don­keys had to be air­lift­ed by heli­copter to the shoot­ing loca­tion.”

Spiel­berg has explained his refusal to do com­men­taries in terms of his reluc­tance to break the illu­sion he and his col­lab­o­ra­tors work so hard to cre­ate in their movies — a fair con­cern, but when I immerse myself in the rich oscil­la­tion between and mix­ture of illu­sion and real­i­ty, fic­tion and fact, movies and their mak­ing, the sto­ry and the sto­ries behind pio­neered by Ben­ning’s fil­mu­men­taries, I feel ready to see a few more illu­sions so fas­ci­nat­ing­ly bro­ken.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Shot-By-Shot Break­downs of Spielberg’s Film­mak­ing in Jaws, Scorsese’s in Cape Fear, and De Palma’s in The Untouch­ables

Spiel­berg Reacts to the 1975 Oscar Nom­i­na­tions: ‘Com­mer­cial Back­lash!’

Watch Steven Spielberg’s Rarely Seen 1968 Film, Amblin’

Learn the Ele­ments of Cin­e­ma: Spielberg’s Long Takes, Scorsese’s Silence & Michael Bay’s Shots

The Com­plete Star Wars “Fil­mu­men­tary”: A 6‑Hour, Fan-Made Star Wars Doc­u­men­tary, with Behind-the-Scenes Footage & Com­men­tary

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The First Adult Coloring Book: See the Subversive Executive Coloring Book From 1961

Exec Coloring 1

Since the Har­ry Pot­ter craze began, we’ve seen young adult fic­tion gain mas­sive pop­u­lar­i­ty with adults, in ways some crit­ics have lament­ed as a trend that infan­tilizes the buy­ing pub­lic. (Some say the same about super­hero films and adult fans of boy bands). Katie Couric iden­ti­fied the phe­nom­e­non as “the rise of so-called Peter Pan activ­i­ties,” throw­ing “adult sum­mer camps and Lego leagues” in the mix. Crit­ics of Peter Panism can add anoth­er trend to their bat­tery of exam­ples: the rise of the adult col­or­ing book. Busi­ness Insid­er report­ed in April that “in Britain, four out of the top 10 Ama­zon best­sellers are col­or­ing (or colour­ing, as the Brits insist) books for adults.” Cur­rent­ly, Amazon’s top 20 best­sellers for 2015 includes three adult col­or­ing books. Among so many oth­er con­sumer signs and por­tents, adult col­or­ing books may indeed her­ald a com­ing apoc­a­lypse, at least for Rus­sell Brand, who won­ders, “What has turned us into ter­ri­fied divs that want to live in child­ish stu­pors?”

Well, whether “child­ish,” art ther­a­py or “Zen,” adult col­or­ing books meet a need mil­lions of grown-ups have to soothe their jan­gled nerves, and it seems almost cru­el to mock peo­ple so anx­i­ety-rid­den they’ve returned to kinder­garten reme­dies. Then again, it’s worth not­ing, as Smith­son­ian did recent­ly, “the adult col­or­ing con­cept is not exact­ly new.”

It dates back to the 1960s, when “book­stores explod­ed” with col­or­ing books geared exclu­sive­ly toward adults. The dif­fer­ence between then and now lies in the fact that those books were adult in con­tent as well as form—“satirical and sub­ver­sive,” offer­ing “a mock­ing look at Amer­i­can soci­ety.” The first of these, The Exec­u­tive Col­or­ing Book, arrived in 1961, fol­lowed by The John Birch Soci­ety Col­or­ing Book and many sim­i­lar titles “sat­i­riz­ing con­formism, John F. Kennedy and the Sovi­et Union,” among oth­er tar­gets. And yet, “Unlike the adult col­or­ing books fly­ing off the shelves today,” Smith­son­ian writes, “these books were not cre­at­ed with the inten­tion to be col­ored in.”

Exec Coloring 2

Take the two pages from The Exec­u­tive Col­or­ing Book above. The first, at the top, shows us our exec­u­tive prepar­ing for his day with the cap­tion “THIS IS MY SUIT. Col­or it gray or I will lose my job.” Above, a line of iden­ti­cal exec­u­tives boards a train. Ham­mer­ing home the point, we’re told “THIS IS MY TRAIN. It takes me to my office every day. You meet lots of inter­est­ing peo­ple on the train. Col­or them all gray.” A notable excep­tion to these drea­ry instruc­tions, below, tells us “THIS IS MY PILL. It is round. It is pink. It makes me not care. Watch me take my round, pink pill… and not care.” The con­tents of the pill may have changed, but the med­icat­ed work­er bee is still very much with us, though the gray flan­nel suit is a thing of the past.

Exec Coloring 3

Rather than giv­ing its tar­get audi­ence a chance to become kids again, The Exec­u­tive Col­or­ing Book pokes fun at the ways in which pam­pered exec­u­tives of the Mad Men-era could them­selves be shal­low man­chil­dren. One page, below, shows the executive’s sec­re­tary with the cap­tion “THIS IS MY SECRETARY. I hate her. She is mean. I used to have a soft, round lady. But my wife called her papa.” Anoth­er (bot­tom), rem­i­nis­cent of the busi­ness card scene in Amer­i­can Psy­cho, shows us the executive’s impor­tant phone: “THIS IS MY TELEPHONE. It has five but­tons. Count them. One, two, three, four, five. Five but­tons. How many but­tons does your tele­phone have? Mine has five.”

Exec Coloring 4

From its faux-leather cov­er to its final page of busi­ness-speak gib­ber­ish, the whole thing is a mas­ter­ful­ly sim­ple, self-con­tained piece of con­cep­tu­al art. The next pub­li­ca­tion by the same authors, The John Birch Col­or­ing Book, made its inten­tions a lit­tle more obvi­ous. A Sun­day Her­ald review quotes from its intro­duc­tion: “This book is respect­ful­ly ded­i­cat­ed to Dwight D. Eisen­how­er and many oth­er loy­al Amer­i­cans who have been maligned by extrem­ist groups.” One cap­tion reads “This is our eagle. We cut off his left wing. Now he is an all Amer­i­can eagle. But he flies only in cir­cles.” The “Birchers will have to learn to smile,” writes the review­er, as the book “spare[s] not their feel­ings.” Not like­ly. Rather than sell­ing relax­ation, the adult col­or­ing books of the 60s were “engaged,” wrote Mil­ton Brack­er in a 1962 New York Times review, “in polit­i­cal war­fare.”

Exec Coloring 5

via Smith­son­ian and Ad to the Bone

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

Down­load 15,000+ Free Gold­en Age Comics from the Dig­i­tal Com­ic Muse­um

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

Dr. Seuss Draws Anti-Japan­ese Car­toons Dur­ing WWII, Then Atones with Hor­ton Hears a Who!

Sartre Writes a Tribute to Camus After His Friend-Turned-Rival Dies in a Tragic Car Crash: “There Is an Unbearable Absurdity in His Death”

The friend­ship of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus end­ed, famous­ly, in 1951. That year, increas­ing­ly frac­tious polit­i­cal ten­sions between the two philoso­pher-writ­ers came to a head over the pub­li­ca­tion of Camus’ The Rebel, a book-length essay that marked a depar­ture from rev­o­lu­tion­ary thought and a turn toward a more prag­mat­ic indi­vid­u­al­ism (as well as recall­ing the anar­cho-syn­di­cal­ism Camus had embraced in the 30s). The doc­tri­naire Sartre and his intel­lec­tu­al coterie took excep­tion, and while Sartre fur­ther pur­sued a Marx­ist polit­i­cal pro­gram, informed by a cri­tique of racism and colo­nial­ism, Camus con­front­ed the absurd; he “begins to sound more like Samuel Beck­ett,” writes Andy Mar­tin at the New York Times’ phi­los­o­phy blog, “all alone, in the night, between con­ti­nents, far away from every­thing.”

The two split not only over ideas, how­ev­er: after the war, Camus became increas­ing­ly dis­il­lu­sioned with Stalin’s total­i­tar­i­an Sovi­et rule, while Sartre made what Camus con­sid­ered weak attempts to defend or excuse the regime’s crimes. At first, writes Volk­er Hage in Der Spiegel, their dis­agree­ments were “lim­it­ed to a rel­a­tive­ly small group of intel­lec­tu­als.” Then Sartre pub­lished Fran­cis Jean­son’s scathing review of The Rebel in the jour­nal Sartre found­ed in 1945, Les Temps Mod­ernes. (See Jean­son dis­cuss the review in the video inter­view below, excerpt­ed from the short doc­u­men­tary on Sartre and Camus at the top of the post). Camus, Hage writes, “made the mis­take of send­ing a long rejoin­der. What fol­lowed was a trag­ic dis­so­lu­tion of what had once been a friend­ship.”

Sartre made his final kiss-off very pub­lic, print­ing in Les Temps Mod­ernes a “mer­ci­less” response, “insid­i­ous and mali­cious, yet also a mag­nif­i­cent mas­ter­piece of per­son­al polemics.” Almost ten years lat­er, in 1960, Camus was killed in a car acci­dent at the age of 46. Though the two nev­er for­mal­ly rec­on­ciled, Sartre penned a heart­felt trib­ute to his for­mer friend in The Reporter that con­tained none of the vit­ri­ol of his past con­dem­na­tions. Instead, he describes their falling out in the terms one might use for a for­mer lover:

He and I had quar­reled. A quar­rel does­n’t mat­ter — even if those who quar­rel nev­er see each oth­er again — just anoth­er way of liv­ing togeth­er with­out los­ing sight of one anoth­er in the nar­row lit­tle world that is allot­ted us. It did­n’t keep me from think­ing of him, from feel­ing that his eyes were on the book or news­pa­per I was read­ing and won­der­ing: “What does he think of it? What does he think of it at this moment?”

Sartre con­fess­es his uneasi­ness with Camus’ moody silence, “which accord­ing to events and my mood I con­sid­ered some­times too cau­tious and some­times too painful.” It was a silence that seem­ing­ly over­took Camus in his final years as he retreat­ed from pub­lic life, and though Camus’ fierce indi­vid­u­al­ism lay at the heart of their falling-out, Sartre wrote in deep appre­ci­a­tion of his friend and antagonist’s soli­tude and stub­born res­olute­ness:

He rep­re­sent­ed in our time the lat­est exam­ple of that long line of moral­istes whose works con­sti­tute per­haps the most orig­i­nal ele­ment in French let­ters. His obsti­nate human­ism, nar­row and pure, aus­tere and sen­su­al, waged an uncer­tain war against the mas­sive and form­less events of the time. But on the oth­er hand through his dogged rejec­tions he reaf­firmed, at the heart of our epoch, against the Machi­avel­lians and against the Idol of real­ism, the exis­tence of the moral issue.

In a way, he was that res­olute affir­ma­tion. Any­one who read or reflect­ed encoun­tered the human val­ues he held in his fist; he ques­tioned the polit­i­cal act. One had to avoid him or fight him-he was indis­pens­able to that ten­sion which makes intel­lec­tu­al life what it is.

Camus’ “silence,” the theme of Sartre’s trib­ute, “had some­thing pos­i­tive about it.” The for­mer harsh­ness of Sartre’s cri­tiques soft­ens as he chides Camus’ refusal “to leave the safe ground of moral­i­ty and ven­ture on the uncer­tain paths of prac­ti­cal­i­ty.” Camus’ con­fronta­tion with the Absurd, writes Sartre, with “the con­flicts he kept hid­den… both requires and con­demns revolt.”

At the bit­ter end of their friend­ship, Sartre vicious­ly con­demned the con­tra­dic­tions of Camus’ polit­i­cal thought as the prod­uct of per­son­al fail­ings, telling him, “You have become the vic­tim of an exces­sive sul­len­ness that masks your inter­nal prob­lems. Soon­er or lat­er, some­one would have told you, so it might as well be me.” In his final trib­ute to Camus, he returns to this idea, in much dif­fer­ent lan­guage, writ­ing that, at the age of 20, Camus had become “sud­den­ly afflict­ed with a mal­a­dy that upset his whole life”; he had “dis­cov­ered the Absurd—the sense­less nega­tion of man.” Rather than suc­cumb­ing, however—Sartre writes—Camus “became accus­tomed to it, he thought out his unbear­able con­di­tion, he came through.”

After the car acci­dent, Sartre acknowl­edged Camus’ fierce indi­vid­u­al­ism and prin­ci­ple in the face of life’s absur­di­ty as an exis­ten­tial tri­umph rather than a hand­i­cap: “We shall rec­og­nize in that work and in the life that is insep­a­ra­ble from it the pure and vic­to­ri­ous attempt of one man to snatch every instant of his exis­tence from his future death.”

Read the full trib­ute essay in a down­load­able PDF for­mat here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Camus Writes a Friend­ly Let­ter to Jean-Paul Sartre Before Their Per­son­al and Philo­soph­i­cal Rift

Hear Albert Camus Deliv­er His Nobel Prize Accep­tance Speech (1957)

The Absurd Phi­los­o­phy of Albert Camus Pre­sent­ed in a Short Ani­mat­ed Film by Alain De Bot­ton

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Discover The Music Vault: A Massive YouTube Archive of 22,000 Live Concert Videos

Last sum­mer, we high­light­ed an almost unbe­liev­ably rich resource for music fans: the Music Vault, a Youtube archive of 22,000 live con­cert videos from a range of artists, span­ning about four decades into the present. In a time of soar­ing tick­et prices, the Music Vault allows us to catch a show at home for free, and to see bands we missed in their hey­day per­form on stages around the world. Last sum­mer, I wrote, “enjoy revis­it­ing the glo­ry days and rest assured, they aren’t going away any­time soon.” But I spoke too soon, as many Music Vault videos (there were only 13,000 then) began dis­ap­pear­ing, along with the nos­tal­gia and hip cur­ren­cy they offered. Well, now they’re back up and run­ning, and let’s hope it’s for good.

Unsurprisingly—given its asso­ci­a­tion with Wolf­gang’s Vault, a restora­tion and archive project that began with the col­lec­tion of leg­endary con­cert pro­mot­er Bill Gra­ham—the Music Vault’s store­house includes per­haps more Grate­ful Dead mate­r­i­al than any­thing else, like the near­ly six hour Win­ter­land con­cert above from 1978. Check out the intro inter­view with now Sen­a­tor, then come­di­an Al Franken, doing some polit­i­cal humor for radio sta­tion KSAN. (And see Franken do anoth­er Dead intro skit in 1980 at Radio City Music Hall here.) There’s so much Grate­ful Dead in fact, they get their own chan­nel. You’ll also find plen­ty more live clas­sic rock shows from Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Mor­ri­son, the StonesJoe Cock­er, and more. (Check out this rare show from a pre-Van Halen Sam­my Hagar in 1978.)

If that’s not what you’re into, there’s also plen­ty of punk and new wave, like the clas­sic Talk­ing Heads per­for­mance of “Life Dur­ing Wartime” above at the Capi­tol The­atre from 1980 (see the com­plete con­cert here). You can also catch Iggy Pop in ’86, Blondie in ’79, the Ramones in ’78, Prince in ’82, or Green Day in ’94. You don’t get the cred from say­ing you were there, what­ev­er that’s worth, but you get the thrill of see­ing these artists in their prime, (almost) live and direct. Fan­cy more con­tem­po­rary fare? Check out the New Music Dis­cov­ery chan­nel with live per­for­mances from cur­rent acts, curat­ed by Daytrot­ter and Paste Mag­a­zine. Dig funk, soul, and reg­gae? They’ve got you cov­ered, with shows from Par­lia­ment-Funkadel­ic, Jim­my Cliff, Cur­tis May­field, and many more. See Bob Mar­ley and the Wail­ers do a stel­lar ren­di­tion of “No Woman, No Cry” at the Oak­land Audi­to­ri­um in 1979, below.

More of a jazz cat? No wor­ries, Music Vault has an exten­sive jazz chan­nel fea­tur­ing every­one from Miles Davis to Her­bie Han­cock to Tony Ben­net, and includ­ing new­er artists like vocal­ist Lizz Wright and trio The Bad Plus. (They’ve even got a sur­pris­ing per­for­mance from Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLar­ia at the New­port Jazz Fes­ti­val in 2002.) The Music Vault also hosts clas­sic music doc­u­men­taries and inter­views, like the Rolling Stones 1976 Euro­pean Tour doc­u­men­tary below. (Oth­er high­lights include doc­u­men­tary Last Days at the Fill­more and a 1974 inter­view with Bill Gra­ham.) What­ev­er your thing is, you’ll prob­a­bly find a lit­tle bit, or a lot, of it in this enor­mous data­base of live con­cert film and video and oth­er fea­tures (though almost no pop, r&b, or hip-hop). If you don’t, check back lat­er. The Music Vault promis­es to add new “hand-curat­ed” con­cert videos dai­ly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Grate­ful Dead’s Final Farewell Con­certs Now Stream­ing Online

10,173 Free Grate­ful Dead Con­cert Record­ings in the Inter­net Archive

What Was Your First Live Con­cert? We’ll Show You Ours, Share Yours.

The Clash Live in Tokyo, 1982: Watch the Com­plete Con­cert

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Hear Jeremy Irons Read T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Naming of Cats’ (For a Limited Time)

Briefly not­ed: For a lim­it­ed time (for the next 23 days, to be pre­cise), you can hear Jere­my Irons read­ing “The Nam­ing of Cats,” a poem from T.S. Eliot’s Old Pos­sum’s Book of Prac­ti­cal Cats (1939). The poem will cer­tain­ly sound famil­iar to any­one who has ever seen Andrew Lloyd Web­ber’s musi­cal, Cats.

As a bonus, if you revis­it this post in our archive, you can hear Eliot, him­self, read­ing poems from the very same col­lec­tion. And this oth­er Open Cul­ture post fea­tures Eliot’s own cov­er design for Old Pos­sum’s Book of Prac­ti­cal Cats. What angle haven’t we cov­ered?

The clip above comes cour­tesy of BBC Radio 4.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

T.S. Eliot Reads Old Possum’s Book of Prac­ti­cal Cats & Oth­er Clas­sic Poems (75 Min­utes, 1955)

T.S. Eliot Illus­trates His Let­ters and Draws a Cov­er for Old Possum’s Book of Prac­ti­cal Cats

Lis­ten to T.S. Eliot Recite His Late Mas­ter­piece, the Four Quar­tets

T.S. Eliot Reads His Mod­ernist Mas­ter­pieces “The Waste Land” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

How to Get Started: John Cage’s Approach to Starting the Difficult Creative Process

john cage 65 hours

Image by WikiArt, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

You know what they say: eighty per­cent of the work you do on a project, you do get­ting the last twen­ty per­cent of that project right. But most of that oth­er twen­ty per­cent of the work must go toward get­ting start­ed in the first place; you’ve got to get over a pret­ty big hill just to get to the point of writ­ing the first sen­tence, paint­ing the first stroke, shoot­ing the first shot, or play­ing the first chords. Avant-garde com­pos­er John Cage knew well the chal­lenges of just get­ting start­ed, and his thoughts on the sub­ject moti­vat­ed him, toward the end of his career, to do the writ­ten, per­formed, and record­ed project we fea­ture today, How to Get Start­ed.

Cage him­self only put on How to Get Start­ed once, at an inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence on sound design at George Lucas’ Sky­walk­er Ranch on August 31, 1989. It worked like this: he brought with him ten note cards, each of which con­tained notes for a par­tic­u­lar “idea” he want­ed to talk about. On went a tape recorder, and he began speak­ing impro­vi­sa­tion­al­ly about the first idea. Then he flipped to the next card, and as he talked about its idea, the record­ing of the first one played in the back­ground. He con­tin­ued with this pro­ce­dure until, by the tenth idea on the tenth card, he had his impromp­tu speech­es on all nine pre­vi­ous ideas play­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly behind him. You can get an idea of what his read­ings sound­ed like in the three clips (from howtogetstarted.org) embed­ded here [first, sec­ond, third].

The ten ideas Cage jot­ted down on his note­cards come inspired by, and inspired him to dis­cuss fur­ther, his own cre­ative expe­ri­ences. In the first, he describes a new com­po­si­tion­al process that came to him in a dream, which involves crum­pling a score into a ball and unfold­ing it again. In the third, he thinks back to his work Roara­to­rio, an Irish cir­cus on Finnegans Wake, which con­vert­ed Joyce’s nov­el into music, and imag­ines a way for­ward that would involve turn­ing into music not one book at a time but sev­er­al. In the fifth, he ref­er­ences Mar­cel Ducham­p’s “The Cre­ative Act,” which brought home for him the notion of how audi­ences “fin­ish the work by lis­ten­ing,” which led to his cre­at­ing works of “musi­cal sculp­ture,” includ­ing one par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­o­rable exam­ple involv­ing “between 150 and 200” Yugosla­vian high school stu­dents, all play­ing their instru­ments in dif­fer­ent places.

Cage’s oth­er sto­ries of cre­ative epiphany in How to Get Start­ed involve a trip to an ane­choic cham­ber; find­ing out what made one dance per­for­mance at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na School of the Arts so “tawdry, shab­by, mis­er­able”; dis­cov­er­ing the artist’s “inner clock” in Leningrad; and how he works around what no less a musi­cal mind than Arnold Schoen­berg diag­nosed as his absent sense of har­mo­ny. You can read a tran­script of all of them in a PDF of How to Get Start­ed’s com­pan­ion book­let. And depend­ing upon how inspired you find your­self (or how close you live to Philadel­phia), you might con­sid­er mak­ing the trip to the Slought Foun­da­tion, who have built a room spe­cial­ly designed for the piece. You might not come out of it feel­ing like you’ve absorbed all the cre­ativ­i­ty of John Cage, but he him­self points us toward the impor­tant thing: not the amor­phous qual­i­ty of cre­ativ­i­ty, but the action of get­ting start­ed.

via Mono­skop

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Uni­ver­sal Mind of Bill Evans: Advice on Learn­ing to Play Jazz & The Cre­ative Process

Cre­ativ­i­ty, Not Mon­ey, is the Key to Hap­pi­ness: Dis­cov­er Psy­chol­o­gist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s The­o­ry of “Flow”

Albert Ein­stein Tells His Son The Key to Learn­ing & Hap­pi­ness is Los­ing Your­self in Cre­ativ­i­ty (or “Find­ing Flow”)

Isaac Asi­mov Explains the Ori­gins of Good Ideas & Cre­ativ­i­ty in Nev­er-Before-Pub­lished Essay

John Cleese’s Phi­los­o­phy of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Cre­at­ing Oases for Child­like Play

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Enhances Our Cre­ativ­i­ty

Jump Start Your Cre­ative Process with Bri­an Eno’s “Oblique Strate­gies” Deck of Cards (1975)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hear Tom Lehrer Sing the Names of 102 Chemical Elements to the Tune of Gilbert & Sullivan

Tom Lehrer earned a BA and MA in math­e­mat­ics from Har­vard dur­ing the late 1940s, then taught math cours­es at MIT, Har­vard, Welles­ley, and UC-San­ta Cruz. Math was his voca­tion. But, all along, Lehrer nur­tured an inter­est in music. And, by the mid 1950s, he became best known for his satir­i­cal songs that touched on some­times polit­i­cal, some­times aca­d­e­m­ic themes.

Today we’re pre­sent­ing one of his clas­sics: “The Ele­ments.” Record­ed in 1959, the song fea­tures Lehrer recit­ing the names of the 102 chem­i­cal ele­ments known at the time (we now have 115), and it’s all sung to the tune of Major-Gen­er­al’s Song from The Pirates of Pen­zance by Gilbert and Sul­li­van. You can hear a stu­dio ver­sion below, and watch a nice live ver­sion taped in Copen­hagen, Den­mark, in Sep­tem­ber 1967.

Decades lat­er, this clas­sic piece of “Tom­fool­ery” stays with us, pop­ping up here and there in pop­u­lar cul­ture. For exam­ple, Daniel Rad­cliffe (of Har­ry Pot­ter fame) per­formed Lehrer’s song on the BBC’s Gra­ham Nor­ton Show in 2010. Enjoy.

Fol­low Open Cul­ture on Face­book and Twit­ter and share intel­li­gent media with your friends. Or bet­ter yet, sign up for our dai­ly email and get a dai­ly dose of Open Cul­ture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts def­i­nite­ly appear in your Face­book news­feed, just fol­low these sim­ple steps.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Math Cours­es

The Math in Good Will Hunt­ing is Easy: How Do You Like Them Apples?

Math­e­mat­ics in Movies: Har­vard Prof Curates 150+ Scenes

Cal­cu­lus Life­saver: A Free Online Course from Prince­ton

 

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.